Protesters march on Walnut Street during a Black Lives Matter protest Thursday, July 21, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Protesters marched from Miller Park to the Tennessee Aquarium and back, stopping and blocking numerous intersections along the route.

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Black Lives Matter rally blocks downtown streets

On one of the hottest nights of the summer, a small crowd of 50 protesters shut down the biggest intersection in downtown Chattanooga with a hallelujah chorus.

The group, organized by Concerned Citizens for Justice, sang out a gospel tune in unison, invoking the need for love and peace, but many of their chants were shouted in anger.

"No justice. No peace. No racist police," the protesters screamed as they walked in a circle, occupying the crosswalks of Fourth and Broad streets.

They shouted "defund the police" and rattled poster boards bearing the same message at the cars that slowly piled up on the blocked streets and passers-by standing on the sidewalks. Other signs read "end the new Jim Crow" and "indict the system."

A contingent of two dozen officers with the Chattanooga Police Department stood calmly on all sides, directing traffic away from the protesters. When the protest began to move on down another street, occupying two lanes of traffic, four squad cars cruised behind them at a crawl, with their blue lights flashing.

Two hours before they started to block intersections, the protesters had gathered in Miller Park to organize and practice chants. Aysja Pryor and the other organizers from CCJ shouted out instructions and handed out pre-made signs.

"Our black brothers and sisters are being killed all across the nation," she said, before addressing the crowd.

Even as officers, including police Chief Fred Fletcher, formed a ring around the park and protesters standing in groups of three or four, the group called for a defunding of the police.

"I don't believe we need police to protect us," Pryor said.

Pastor Charlotte Williams had a similar message of frustration, saying she's sick of double standards when it comes to law enforcement.

"When black people kill black people, they go to jail, but when police kill black people, they do not," she said.

But protesters with CCJ weren't the only ones in Miller Park. A separate organization called the Three Percenters strolled up to the group saying they had come to show the police that some members of the public support and trust them.

"We wanted the boys in blue to know we believe in what they do," said Manuel Thurman, an organizer for the group who oversees several counties in the area.

The group of burly men, some of them ex-military, came bearing water for the protesters, but when asked what he thought about the message of the protesters, Thurman said he was opposed to it.

"I think it's based on a false narrative," he said. "These officers don't profile."

Officers on the scene said they may disagree with the protesters, but they would defend their constitutional right to voice an opinion peacefully.

"We deal with people saying stuff to us," said Assistant Chief Tracy Arnold.

Arnold, who heads the CPD's Community Services Bureau, said that most of the time, as was the case with a Black Lives Matter rally two weeks ago, police officers are supported by the protesters. But not Thursday night.

"This particular group is always contradictory to us," he said. "We need to be a community together, not apart."

The officers had brought with them a grill with food and water to barbecue for the group, but Pryor and the rest of the group flatly rejected the offer, saying it was an attempt by the officers to pull support away from the protest.

"The police are trolling us. We aren't accepting that," Pryor said.

As she bellowed through a bullhorn, the group coalesced around her to get fired up and practice their chants. After 15 minutes, they took off at a steady march toward downtown, chanting all the way.

They jumped from one message to another, alternating between "Ain't no power like the power of the people," to "Stand up, fight back."

And they sang, "We're set on freedom. Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at or 423-757-6731.